The libretto is a typical Carlo Goldoni concoction, taking in elements of farce and a humour bordering (appropriately, given the context) on the surreal, in order to convey the desirability of reasoned free-thinking as opposed to unthinking conformism. Astrologer manqué Ecclitico dupes man of property Buonafede into believing he has travelled to the moon; the radical protocol there seeing him agree to the marriage of his daughters Clarice and Flaminia respectively to Ecclitico and gentleman Ernesto, whose valet Cecco duly secures the hand of Buonofedes maid Lisetta. Such is the plot underlying the two-and-a-half hours of Haydns opera which consists of the customary assemblage of arias and ensembles, interspersed with recitative to keep events on track. Musically, the work might reasonably be described as consistently second-rate; Haydn maintaining a relaxed, even affectionate pace bringing out the humour of Goldonis text without the need to point up social observations in the way that Da Ponte was to do so brilliantly for Mozart during the next decade.
What the music does do is to give the singers every chance to demonstrate vocal prowess singly and collectively; opportunities seized on gratefully by this cast. While there were no overtly weak links, the light-toned lyricism of Joakim Schuster and superbly detailed articulation of Lucy Crowe stood out. Kevin Kyle was engaging as the scheming but sympathetic Ecclitico, while Robert Winslade Anderson found a degree of wounded nobility in Buonafede to prevent him seeming a total buffoon. Julia Rileys coquettish Lisetta frequently stole the show in terms of vocal acting. Utilising a period setting, its degree of affectation would not be out of place in a production of Amadeus, Robert Chevara brought off some scintillating coups de théâtre; notably the life on the moon episode which persuades Buonafede to make his journey, and the pantomimic quality of events on landing not least Andrew Clarkes souped-up Emperor of the Moon. Iain Ledingham conducted the Royal Academy Sinfonia woodwind playing a constant delight with style and verve, while his crisp harpsichord work rescued recitative passages from overt dryness.
Not, then, an opera which presents Haydn as a blazing dramatist, but one which confirms his sense of the theatre to be undoubted. Catch one of the remaining two performances if you can, on 24 and 25 November, and enjoy.
- Il mondo della luna Royal Academy of Music until 25 November at 7 p.m. 020 7873 7300
- Royal Academy of Music